Navigating through the current system to rent a property or to pay your rental and property tax is quite a headache for just about every Nepali citizen. It is a complex affair, to say the least, but Bhaskar Datta, one of the creators of the Municipal Household Property Tax Management System (MHPTMS), wanted to tackle that issue to try and simplify the process. He is still on his journey towards doing so but is well aware that it is no easy task. Nevertheless, he remains determined and believes that a system such as this could benefit all parties involved. We spoke to him to better understand what this system is and what kind of services it could potentially provide.
1. Could you give us a brief introduction of your project and organization?
Based on our research, we found that a third of Kathmandu’s population lives in rental properties. This population faces a lot of hurdles to find a good rental space like not being able to find a place in time, having to pay dalaals and high rental prices set by landlords. There aren’t any governing bodies regulating these issues. There are issues with property and rental tax payments as well. If you own any kind of real estate and put it up for rent, the owner of the property must pay the property and rental tax. However, there are cases where landowners have separate contracts for their rentee and for the government so they end up making a profit by collecting a greater revenue from the renters than what they pay to the government. So, with MHPTMS we are trying to create a system where the renter pays the amount online and the tax amount is automatically deducted from it before being transferred to the bank account of the land/property owner. The software will have several other features as it progresses.
2. What other features do you expect MHPTMS to have?
We wanted to incorporate the idea of giving homes digital numbers to get accurate location points. Along with the location points we also want to create digital records for people’s land. All this digital data could be useful in unexpected scenarios like an ambulance or just looking for someone, or any other emergencies like a fire where we need exact and accurate locations. Another potential feature would be to to get the maps of a new construction approved by the Mahanagarpalika through this platform. Additionally, if you had to take out a loan it could give you an accurate estimate of the land value online. Overtime we want to incorporate buying and selling as well.
MHPTMS could potentially have a lot of benefits for people trying to find a rental space. We want to try and come up with programs where we pay rent for students 2 to 3 months until they find themselves able to pay it back. We plan on talking to insurance companies to insure the renters as well. We’ll have a map that shows your current location and what renting locations are available nearby. You will be able to go to specific locations and look for relevant properties there as well.
We even plan on creating a separate portal for these agents to help mediate certain transactions while receiving a certain commission. But there are going to be certain restrictions on things such as a limit on the fees accepted for this. We will have their identification as well. Another thing we want to do is if there’s a local body, we have to establish standard values for rent or land prices in certain areas. To avoid high or unfair prices which helps buyers and renters. But obviously a lot of people see that as a threat and would be resistant to this idea.
3. Why should people use this? Does it make things more convenient for them?
Currently there aren’t any systems like this in Nepal. Some people don’t even know they’re supposed to pay their rental tax. People looking for rental spaces don’t know what the standard of the apartments are, or whether amenities like electricity and wifi are available. We wanted to create a portal where all these things are visible and people can carry out their transactions in a safe and reliable manner.
There won’t be any delay in the transactions either. This will be just another tool, like online banking, that helps people get their rental payments sent/received instantly and with greater convenience. We plan on establishing partnerships with certain banks so transactions can be done instantly. It is meant to be a more reliable means to carry out these transactions. As for people who aren’t good with technology, we’re planning on having a representative at each ward who could make things easier for them and help them out.
I believe it’s better if these systems are developed by Nepali companies. When these projects are received by foreign agencies they become privy to a lot of valuable information that they normally would not have been. With our system, we are developing it ourselves and the technology and all the information stays in Nepal.
4. What other projects are you involved in?
All our projects exist under the company “Easy parking Pvt. Ltd.” We’re a tech company and we have other projects like a waste management project called “Fohormalai.” We’re seeking funds for that too and trying to bring it to the market. We have the easy parking project and then software development and web development projects. There are five team members and we all work from home for these projects. I’m also involved with an INGO called STEAM, which stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. They organize various olympiads for youths and school students. It’s a platform for them to reach competitive global markets and I help students prepare for these olympiads.
5. What are your biggest challenges in moving forward with MHPTMS?
Funding for this project has been our biggest issue. KMC and the city planners have told us they cannot provide the funds for these projects but we can continue with our work if we can arrange for our own funding. They have told us they would support us on the legal front. Everything is still in the testing phase and it is hard to say if people will use it, which is why we have to bring it into the market first and see how it does.
There are other issues to work out, like the payment gate. We wanted an easy solution for the customers to make payments and for the Mahanagarpalika to accept those payments. But for the payments to go through the banks would have to take a certain percentage for the functionality of the payment gate. If that commission adds to the tax amount then that’s not very practical either.
Security is also a major focus on since we are dealing with important data and information that that needs a high degree of security. The high level security required to make sure the data is secure increases the overall cost. The National Information Technology Center (NITC) has servers which could help us implement this more easily. They have servers and other resources which could help us get things done pretty easily. A lot of people benefit from the current system, for example people who just don’t pay their taxes. In the long run, the implementation of this idea would benefit all parties involved, particularly the government, and boost efficiency.
6. So apart from funding, do you think the relevant parties are supportive of your idea?
We meet with government officials frequently and typically they ask us to refine our ideas and make sure we are clear on what exactly we need from them. I appreciate their interest and understand that to potentially implement something like this, they are going to want the best possible information from us. There is a great potential for improving governmental income through this software since there is so much viable real estate in Kathmandu.
The people who are involved in creating the MHPTMS have put in a lot of time and effort towards this project because we’re trying our best to develop the best possible product. If there are any interested parties who might be interested in helping us progress we could move forward much faster. Regardless, you can’t expect everything to go your way. The only thing to do is to stay fixated on your work, don’t stagnate and stay focused no matter what.
For more information about MHPTMS, connect with Bhaskar Datt Bhatt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.